Thursday, February 17, 2011

Letting them "blossom" on their own

I came across this post last night, "Why I don't force my kids to say 'please' ...or walk on schedule", and it really hit me hard. I was like, "WHOA!" (okay, I wasn't really, but I couldn't write this post without referring to Joey Lawrence and his signature line and I might as well get it over with now, right?). But, seriously. It made me re-think my parenting style and what I believe is best for my family. It made me look at my myself from another perspective and that's cool.

The post was written by Mayim Bialik, former "Blossom" star, one of my favourite shows growing up. Mayim follows a let-them-develop-at-their-own-pace kind of parenting method and it's what works for her and her family. She talks about three areas that parents force on their children; sharing, politeness, and excelling.

This post comes at a perfect time. Just the other night I was looking back on my day and was disappointed in myself for how many times I asked little E, "What do you say?" You know, the common phrase that parents say to their children to get a please or thank you out of them? I am asking him this way too much and I'm starting to annoy myself. Does he genuinely say please or thank you? Very rarely. He is usually prompted to. His day care provider is very strict about manners in her house and I respect that. But does he really understand the meaning or is it a response he knows is just to get his way? Before I read Mayim's post, I was starting to think of how I can re-phrase my question to make him understand his manners better. Do I say, "remember your manners" or "be polite" or is that just as bad? Do I say anything at all?

Her comments about sharing are interesting. I am guilty of hovering at playgroups sometimes, but I have also done the opposite and backed away to see how things pan out. Nobody wants their child to be viewed as the greedy or mean one when they steal toys away from another child or butt in front of the line to the slide, so usually a quick reminder or a returned toy to the upset friend is taken care of by the parent. Mayim has me re-thinking about how to react in these situations. Perhaps discussing the situation is better and making your child understand their friend's feelings. Although, I'm not convinced this would be an easy task.

What boggles my mind is her completely out of the norm view on children reaching milestones and our views on excelling. Most parents these days are so excited to see their child advance that they do what ever they can to help steer them in the right direction. Since little E is my first child I was eager to see him smile and crawl and walk. I know this is typical of first time parents. I hadn't even considered letting him learn these big steps on his own without a little coaxing.

One of the biggest milestones I looked forward to was talking. Since the day we brought little E home we have talked his little ears out. We read him stories over and over, making sure to include books with repetition to help his development even more. We explain everything we are doing, OUT LOUD, so he is aware and understands. We talk to him as we go grocery shopping, as we tie our shoes, as we cook dinner….Hubby and I don’t stop talking. I’ve read a lot of articles about how to encourage your children to talk and I try my best to follow these easy steps.

I can still remember the day that it really hit us that little E knew exactly what we were saying.  He was 13 months old and had just got comfortable enough on his feet that he could walk around the house without falling down. We had just finished dinner and I sat down on the couch with Hubby as little E played with toys on the floor. I turned to Hubby and asked him if he wanted to take little E and the dog to the park. Little E got up and excitedly walked over to me. So I told him, while snickering, that if he wanted to go to the park he had to go get his shoes so Mommy could put them on (I was clearly being lazy and was snickering because there was no way he would actually do this, right?). He happily walked over to the front door picked up his shoes, and gave them to me. Hubby and I looked at each other and laughed. We couldn’t believe it! It was like one of Oprah’s "AHA!" moments. Wow, he really gets us! It was the first time that little E really showed us that he understood and that he was listening. It was amazing and it still makes me smile thinking back to how shocked we were seeing him come around the corner of the kitchen with shoes in-hand. I think it was the same time I said to Hubby, “Ok, really, no more swearing in this house!”.

I have a few friends and family that are teachers and I hear horror stories all the time about children not knowing how to read or about all the behavioural and learning issues there are today. I’ve always taken reading to little E seriously...because I believe it is one of the most important things to do for a child to help them excel in life. I have always believed that my role was to give little E all the tools he needs to excel on his own. Like a gardener, giving a plant the proper amount of soil, sunlight and water to thrive.  From there it is up to my little flower to use these tools to build strength and "blossom" on his own.

Little E can express himself exceptionally well for an almost 22 months old. At 15 months old he had well over the recommended number of words and he is saying small sentences now. He can tell me when something hurts or if he's hungry or tired. He can tell me exactly what toy he wants to play with or book he wants to read or snack he feels like eating. Talking has made my life so much easier! Who knows, maybe my excessive talking did help him learn to talk earlier...or maybe he is just an early talker? Lately I have wondered; Am I pushing it? Am I forcing him to talk?

Over the Christmas holidays when we were visiting family (that we usually only visit once a year), little E was playing with some cousins. A family member wanted to show off his "skills" and was constantly asking him questions (ie. say this, say that). He grew more and more agitated when I finally had to step in and say, "I think he just wants to play right now". I wanted to scream "Just let him be a kid! Leave him alone!", but I know this family member was just so proud of him that they want to show him off. I get that. As I vented to Hubby that night we finally realized - enough is enough. Yes, he is speaking really well and his soft little voice is completely adorable but he is not a little robot or puppet or monkey. I think as parents, we forget that sometimes it's more important for them to play and learn from their surroundings rather then quizzing them on their words or ABC's or 123's.  I am guilty of doing this from time to time, but I never wanted to be that parent.

I am interested to see more from Mayim. Some of her beliefs have FORCED me to re-evaluate my parenting, but others I know are not for me. And that's fine. I am a firm believer of do-what-works-for-you. She really has opened my eyes to different parenting styles and there are things that I am already doing differently to try to better myself as a parent. Like, last night for example. I did not prompt little E to say goodnight or to say that he loves me because really that's ridiculous. But I am guilty of doing this previously because it's just so freakin' cute when he says it. Instead, I will wait for a night (like he has done in the past) where he out-of-the-blue says, "Goodnight, wuv you Mommy", because THAT is so much more rewarding.

"Living Up To My Potential AND MORE"


  1. I'm big on the "please" and "thank you", and on sharing, and being kind. I feel it's my responsibility as a parent to socialize my children so they will have happy and fulfilling lives. That being said, my life is kinda like "The Lord of The Flies" but, at least, they are polite about it!

  2. yaya for do-it-yourself parenting support! Lately, I've been wondering about my own parenting (new mum kind of wondering) because I naturally gravitated to the let-him-sort-it-out-himself style of doing things. This post made me feel better about that choice. Some of my methods have been unconventional, I suppose, but Budsie gets along well with others and is a cheery little dude. Whatever works, right?

  3. Alicia, I read this post yesterday, and it really stuck with me! And then my son behaved like a maniac when we had guests over last night, and all I could think of was you and Miyam! Ha ha... I've put a little post up today about it. I wonder what you'd think...?

  4. @Gwen - I totally agree that "please" and "thank you" reminders are our job and to teach them to be socialable. What I don't like is repeating it...there has got to be another way.

    @Ezmy - you got it...whaetever works for you!

    @Allison P. - Going to check it out now!

  5. Alicia, I meant to comment when you posted this earlier this week. While I am big on reminding about please and thank you, I don't like repeating it over and over. It's irritating to me and to them.

    I firmly believe based on my (admittedly limited) experience that they learn by example. If we model and we treat them the way we would like to be treated, they will learn. I also think they learn through our reactions and through empathy. I saw this the other day. My mom had gone out of her way to make us a great dinner and my dad was upstairs sick in bed. Lil D was especially complimentary on the food, exceptionally polite, and also helpful in bringing my dad messages and things from my mom. He could tell that was what they needed.

  6. Yes, there's no question that Mayim has that right - they do learn from example. That is so cute of Lil D!

  7. This post has really made me think a lot and then some more. I can see where she (through you) is coming from, and especially agree with the notion that you should lead by example, that you should explain sharing rather than enforce it, and letting them sort it out... I know that there are times when I know I need to dial it back on my expectations.

    We do try to do that, but I am also ok with giving the lils a nudge, helping them get to the place where they are able to blossom on their own. It's a delicate balance. Our biggest struggle is manners right now. We act how we expect them too, and guide them as to why it is important, BUT have to combat how their friends act... and this is driving me a little batty right now. :)

    Thanks for the post, it continues to make me think. And re-evaluate.

  8. I love this discussion! As a first time mom of a sweet 3 month old daughter I don't put too much thought into her manners. However, as an ECE and home child care provider I encounter this issue daily. Until reading the above I had not really analyzed my own personal philosophy and practices in this area. As ECE's we are constantly taught and reminded of the importance of child development milestones which places a concrete age on each level of a child's learning and development. As a mom I am learning to concern myself less with the "charts" and more with the pure enjoyment of each new emerging discovery & skill. In relation to manners; the old "pre-baby", ECE "me" would definitely have encouraged the "what do you say" way of reminding and enforcing polite manners. But, after reading the posts, I am wondering how genuine the "thank you's" and "I'm sorry's" really are when we are making them say it. The new, more laid back, enjoy the ride, Mom "me" thinks that the best learning tool a parent or child educator can use is positive examples. I do and shall continue to encourage and sometimes suggest the use of polite manners to youngsters... But, I truly believe that the best lessons are taught through positive examples and lots of positive reinforcement.

  9. Thank you for sharing :) It is amazing how motherhood changes us, isn't it?

  10. I think the idea isn't so much that we don't help our kids, prompt them, talk to them, give them opportunities, but just that we don't PUSH. That we don't panic if they don't walk and talk and read at X age. Or, like one mom I read about, spend hours teaching the baby to use a spoon at nine months old. Maybe they'll learn to use the spoon sooner, but does it actually matter? It's not a competition -- a kid who hits his milestones sooner isn't smarter, simply a different personality. Mellow kids walk later because there's nowhere they have to go. Kids whose parents anticipate their needs may talk later because they don't have anything they need to say. It doesn't mean they'll grow up "behind" all the other kids!

    I talk to my baby all day long; I practice walking with him; I try to model good manners; but I'm accepting of the fact that it will take a long time before I get any of this back from him. He might not say please till he's three ... and that's okay! What under-three understands "please" anyway?